Men often find it embarrassing to give a semen sample at a clinic, says Yoshitomo Kobori at the Dokkyo Medical University Koshigaya Hospital in Japan. So Kobori devised an alternative. “I thought a smartphone microscope could be an easy way to look at problems with male fertility,” he says.
Kobori and his colleagues came up with a lens less than a millimetre thick that can be slotted into a plastic “jacket”. Clipped on to the camera of a smartphone, it magnifies an image by 555 times – perfect for looking at sperm.
To do a home test, a man would apply a small amount of semen to a plastic sheet around five minutes after ejaculation and press it against the microscope.
Watch them swim
The phone’s camera can then take a 3-second video clip of the sperm. When viewed enlarged on a computer screen, it is easy for someone to count the total number of sperm and the number that are moving – key indicators of fertility.
Kobori says the system works as well as the software used in fertility clinics. When the team ran 50 samples through both systems, they got almost identical results. The work was presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology meeting in Helsinki this month.
The system can’t assess the ability of sperm to fertilise an egg. “This method is only the simple version of semen analysis,” says Kobori. But that could be enough for men to identify potential fertility problems, and decide whether to seek help from a doctor.